Notes on Three Faces of Hera

Notes from James Hillman's benefit lecture for the Joseph Campbell, Maria Gimbutas library, February 1996

Christine Norstrand

Marriage involves two discrete worlds: Idealism and Mundane Practicalities. Symbolically, it brings together the two world of sky and earth. How do you bring two worlds together? The answer is given in the question of "two worlds" to begin with. They are two worlds, not one world.

Marriage is represented archetypally by the goddess Hera. The psychomythology of Hera is that what is not recognized puts claims on us. If Hera is not recognized and given her due, she will consume you, not literally but in the aspects of life that fall within her domain by reason of our failing to understand and act accordingly.

  1. Misconceptions Exist

    Hillman gives the example of a survey done in Putnam, Connecticut, where he lives. Most of the population is elderly, age 60+. The question: "What is it that makes marriage worth it after so many years?" For most of Putnam's residents, the "coupling", the sharing being together.

    Hera is the goddess who personifies the relationship between practicalities vs. idealism. Hillman suggests that it may be easier to reconcile the dichotomies of the fixed and the volatile, rather than of the practical vs. the ideal. The alchemical dictionary uses the word "marriage" in many relationship of opposites, all of the reconciliation takes places in the container by the fire.

    Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce and unhappiness. There is no goddess of marriage in whom to reconcile the opposites. The lawyers are the priests of the system, the laws are the myths that support our culture. People go into marriage with expectations regarding the ideal and the practicalities. Each person wants to change the other to fulfill personal expectations. Language degenerates to "I can't" or "I won't". "Can't" leads to depression. "Won't" leads to anger. The truth is that reality does not equate to the fantasy one brings to the marriage.

  2. The Fantasy

    The fantasy that marriage includes all the gods, that it can hold it all. This is a distinctly American fantasy. Victorians did not embrace it so much, called each other "Mr." and "Mrs." and kept their deepest selves apart. Marriage was a container for the quiet desperation of the interior life.

    Hera offers to the Victorians the desire to be married, a coupling. Hera is the urge to be "mated", not just physically. And at the same time, both wanting and fearing the condition of being "mated".

    The fantasies surrounding marriage include its sacramentality, one that invites old age, sickness, and poverty, even in the words of the ceremony. If marriage is the marriage of sky and earth, a divorce is a cosmological horror, an archetypal rending of the cosmos.

    Yet marriage is also secular, a legal contract. A couple can be married by a priest or a justice.

  3. Aspects of Hera

    Hera appears as a cow in the psyche of marriage. There will be calmness and order. She is described as cow-eyed. A third aspect of the cow is that of property, value placed on something by living in the worlds. Hillman mentions dowries and other such transactions that precede marriage.

    Even after marriage, property is an important consideration. Ulysses brings home trophies, property to show that he is a hero. The husband returning from a business trip brings gifts, homage to Hera.

    Air is her element. The atmosphere in the house, physically the smells but also the emotional climate. He refers to the quality of mood that goes with the house

    Hera also governs jealousy, she is the jealous wife, jealous of those things that threaten the couple. Myth of Zeus and his creative imagination.

    Hera has three faces: young virgin bride (Hebe), a matron who rules in society, and Chara, the old one, deserted and left alone. All three are always present, they are not sequential stages. These archetypes can possess anyone, not just a woman, not just a married woman. Hera urges appear in men as well.

  4. Problem of Marriage

    The problem of marriage is the coupling and uncoupling, back and forth. It is all there at once -- divorce and widow is there in the moment of marriage. The archetype stands outside of time.

    Hera cannot stand a token husband. She requires true relationship. It is the relationship with her spouse that is important to her. Mothering is not part of Hera's mythology and is a counterforce to it. Hera is enraged when Zeus is cavalier about their relationship and has affairs. For Zeus it is not a betrayal because he comes with a different fantasy (Aphrodite). She feels betrayed when he leaves.

    Part of the fear in the marriage is of anyone breaking out of it.

  5. Solutions

    To acknowledge Hera, bring lightness and darkness together, comedy and depth. Not just practical and ideal. Hera does not have to be stern and serious.

    Hera has higher purposes than personal happiness and among these she counts the maintenance of the house. Hera is the queen of the house, deeply rooted in mythology. Children play house, an archetypal move going on, not just a game. Housekeeping is taking care of Hera. Eating together is important, as is offering meals to visitors. The relationship to the house is a primary importance for the Hera consciousness. An old saying says that as soon as a couple beings to talk about moving the house (upward mobility or whatever), that's the first sign of break up of the marriage. Hera values a man who can make repairs around the house. A man who desecrates the house by leaving messes is chastised. A good housekeeper is prized. Hera is the goddess of maintenance, of keeping up the front together.

  6. Wants

    There are four things missing in Hera:

    - Imagination. She is receptive but not imaginative. So it appears as jealous curses.

    - Art. Hera's sense of the house is as a decorator, but not as art. She is not an artist.

    - Metaphor. Hera is literal.

    - Humor. Hera does not have a great sense of human, except in the comedy of her Hebe aspect.